Tuesday, 31 October 2017

AN IMAGE FOR HALLOWEEN

Photo: Cliff Astles
by Dave Roberts

Here's a striking image which Cliff Astles sent to us a while ago and we thought might be appropriate for Halloween.
Behind all the 'ghosties and ghoulies' and the rather unpleasant fake blood and plastic daggers and silly masks and so on lies the real Halloween, or Eve of Hallowtide, which was celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November in Medieval times.
Hallowtide (or, in Ireland, 'Samhain') has (or had) little to do with the supernatural (and absolutely nothing to do with blood, horror and screaming skulls and the like - that's an American invention which only came into being when Hollywood started to get a grip of people's imaginations in order to promote its cheap blood and gore horror films).
It was a Christian festival and a time of feasting and celebration of the start of winter.
It later became linked with All Saints Day and All Souls Day, again celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November, in which the church celebrated its saints and martyrs and the departed souls of all who had gone before.
In England, until recent times, Halloween was regarded simply as a time when the 'spirit' world was closer to the every day world than usual.
Now, like Christmas and Easter, Halloween serves as another chance to make money for big business with sweet manufacturers and makers of novelties cashing in more and more with each passing year..
Good fun for the kids, of course, but a world away from its origins in the mists of time when people would pause for a while in their busy lives to remember those who had passed beyond the veil into unknown realms which we can only wonder about.

Halloween in Middlewich in the late 1950s and early 1960s was a fairly low-key affair, as it was elsewhere in Britain before the blatant commercialisation of the festival took hold.
We certainly made lanterns, but not out of pumpkins, which only went on sale here in recent years.
Our lanterns were  hollowed-out turnips with candles inside them, and they used to reek to high-heaven when they got hot.
In actual fact we were following a tradition which went back a lot further than the Americans' pumpkin carving. 
The original English medieval  Halloween tradition involved making lanterns from turnips and we were, whether we knew it or not, following that tradition.
I have vivid childhood memories of listening to ghost stories broadcast by AFN (the American Forces Network) on long-ago Halloween Nights over fifty years ago. They were broadcast on medium wave to the many American soldiers stationed here and all over Europe in those days.
The static and crackling and Radio Luxembourg-style fading in and out of the signal only added to the atmosphere.
Occasionally, but only occasionally, someone would organise a Halloween Party.
One such took place, I recall, in the late 1950s at the Manor, when it was still inhabited by the Willing-Denton family. As we were living in Nantwich Road at the time, it was just a matter of walking down the road and under the aqueduct to Manor Lodge, then making the arduous journey along the carriage drive to the Manor itself.
Once there, we were introduced to such quaint American customs as 'bobbing for apples'.
'Trick-or-treating' was discouraged because of  stories which reached us from America of people giving children apples with razor-blades in them and other such horrors. The stories were mostly complete nonsense - urban legends designed for the credulous. In fact, as far as we can gather,  there has only ever been one recorded instance of anyone trying to cause harm to trick-or-treating American children. The woman in question poisoned some candy and was later found to be insane. No one came to any harm.
But true or not, these gruesome stories put us off the idea of going from door to door asking for sweets, and the idea has only taken off in fairly recent years along with the rest of the Americanisation of Halloween.
Halloween in those days was just a distraction. Most of our energy was spent on preparing for the much more popular Bonfire Night a few days later.

Cliff's picture is made up of  images taken in and around Middlewich on two separate occasions. If you are wondering where the tree is, here, taken from his original comment on this entry, is what Cliff has to say:

As you pass the newly built houses along Warmingham Lane, look at the fields on your left hand side as you are going out of Middlewich (into Moston). After about 200 yards you will see the tree, just over the hedge and about 50 yards into the field.

- but please bear in mind that the rapid rate of housing development in Middlewich as in towns all over the area, means that the tree, and indeed the field, may not be there for much longer
Special Middlewich Diary Masthead for Halloween 2017


Our 'Three Witches' motif has been borrowed from the Middlewich Salt Company's letterhead.
Halloween has always had a particular resonance in the Cheshire salt towns, in all likelihood simply because 'wich' sounds like 'witch'. Carnivals and parades, particularly in Middlewich, always featured at least one 'Middlewich Witch'. This association was exploited by the Middlewich Salt Co. when it adopted as its trademark 'Middle-Witch Salt'.

Here's the full letterhead, this version of which dates back to 1946:



and here's a link to the Diary entry which, since we started in 2011, has always been our most popular entry:

MIDDLEWICH SALT CO LETTERHEAD

...and  finally, here's a genuine Middlewich Witch at the 1973 Carnival in company with a lady advertising RHM's 'exceedingly good' Mr Kipling cakes...


First published Halloween Night (31st October) 2014
Revised and re-published Halloween Night 2016
and Halloween Night 2017

MFAB MEMORIES: TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF THE FOLK & BOAT!





Foreword
by Dave Roberts

Of all the various things I've been involved with locally in my nearly 65 years in Middlewich, I am, of course, proudest of my involvement with the Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival. More than anything else that's happened here over the last 27 years, the 'Folk & Boat' gave our town back its community spirit, its 'sense of place' and its reason to be cheerful, if only for one weekend a year. With all due respect to everything else that goes on in Middlewich, this is the event that really put us on the map, and paved the way for all the many and varied events that go on year by year, month by month, week by week, and day by day in our 'forgotten town'. Here we are in 2015 looking back on how it all started...

August 2017


TWENTY FIVE YEARS OF THE FOLK AND BOAT...


The year 2015 is a very special one for our town's original and unique music festival, as we celebrate twenty five years of the 'Folk & Boat'.
This milestone should, of course, have been reached in 2014 but, as we all know, an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 meant that that year's festival had to be abandoned.

Here's the story of the festival's origins, according to current festival organiser Dave Thompson:

The Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival came about following a conversation in the Boars Head, one evening in 1989…
Folk singers the Middlewich Paddies were keen to start-up a festival and, just by chance, the Trent & Mersey Canal Society wanted to organise a boat gathering- and in no time at all the `folk & boat` festival was born! 
A group of willing volunteers were quickly rounded-up and thanks to welcome support by Middlewich Town Council, Congleton Borough Council, and BRS Northern, the first festival took place on 15-16-17 of June 1990.
Hosted by the Middlewich Paddies the weekend featured a concert by folk-comic, Bernard Wrigley and a ceilidh (a bit like a barn dance) by Token Women. 

The first Talent Competition took place in the Wych Centre. There were music sessions in the beer tent and local pubs, along with Morris dancing by SIX TOWNS MORRIS and the boat rally provided the activities and entertainment for the weekend- a wonderful occasion that just had to be repeated 

The original committee comprised- 
Colin Barrass (chairman), Sally Fallon, Derek Clayton (treasurer), Richard Devaney, John McAteer, Mike Parsons, Peter Cox, Dave Thompson. Concert MC Dave Roberts*

* Editor's note: Although my original role was supposed to be strictly that of MC, and although I was at pains to point out that I was not prepared to be on any committee, John McAteer, the guiding light behind MFAB and the man who did a lot behind the scenes to make sure the festival actually happened, had other ideas. He invited me to go along to one of the first committee meetings 'to see what it was all about'. I left that meeting feeling excited, slightly bemused and wondering how I had somehow, almost without realising it, become the festival's publicity officer! - DR



The Festival's first logo. The lettering was originally shaded and the violin surrounded by musical notes. Repeated photocopying (the only kind of reproduction possible in those pre-computer days) meant that the lettering gradually wore a bit thin and the musical notes faded away.


The very first MFAB publicity from 1990, featuring 'Female Ceilidh Band' The Paddies! (Middlewich FAB Festival)*


*Dave Thompson points out that the 'Female Ceilidh Band' in question were actually The Token Women.
More than any other event it was the 'Folk & Boat' which steered Middlewich in a new direction after several years in the post-industrial doldrums.
As recounted above by Dave Thompson, enthusiastic members of the community put forward the idea of a Music Festival based on successful events in places like Newcastleton and Melrose in the Scottish Borders and, nearer to home, Nantwich and Chester.
The 'Folk & Boat' (and, yes, we did realise right from the start that if you said it quickly it sounded a bit rude - that's one of the reasons why we chose the name) was intended to be a mostly low-key pub singaround style festival hosted by the (far from female) Middlewich Paddies and featuring as special guest Bernard Wrigley who had already made several appearances in Middlewich at the Boar's Head Folk Club.
The compere was the then ubiquitous Mr Roberts who filled in time between acts (all two of them) with some of his allegedly funny poems.
Everything took place in a small marquee  on Market Field, at the Civic Hall (since renamed the Town Hall) and in various pubs around town.
The programme for the first F&B festival, also featuring some of Mr R's allegedly funny poems



The first festival, although very simple by comparison with  MFAB events in later years, was a resounding success and the organising committee knew before the weekend was over that there was no going back and that the Folk & Boat was an opportunity to put Middlewich on the map.
Feedback from visitors to the festival made everyone realise that the town, with a history stretching back at least to Roman times, had  a story to tell and that people would gladly come from far and wide to hear it.
Some of the 1996 Folk Festival team help to publicise the local Chronicle's Stacey Pushchair appeal. 
Over the years MFAB was involved with many local charities, and also helped provide educational resources to local schools and institutions. The Stacey Pushchair Appeal, organised by the Middlewich Chronicle, raised funds for a specially adapted pushchair for a local youngster.




On its tenth anniversary in 1999 the FAB Festival was  featured on the 'floral clock' close to the Council offices (now the Town Hall) in Civic Way. Members of the committee are seen posing with the floral design which featured the festival's original 'fiddle' logo
In 1999, when its tenth anniversary came around, the Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival was well established as one of the top ten music festivals in the North-West and Middlewich was getting more and more enthusiastic about using its own history and heritage as a way of attracting visitors.


The MFAB team 2000
(l to r)(back row) Ian Murfitt, Mike Parsons, Dave Roberts, Dave Thompson, Mike Hough, Lynne Hardy
(front row) Richard Devaney, Peter Cox, Rita O'Hare, Julie Bickerton, Alison Roylance-White
By the year 2000 the festival had become a must for many people who travel around the country year after year on the folk festival circuit. The Millenium was celebrated in typically idiosyncratic Middlewich style with 'Middlewich's own Millenium Dome' and the story is told here.


Photo: Dave Thompson/Middlewich Town Council
The Festival of 2005 was the first one to make use of the newly-completed 'Amphitheatre' in Middlewich Town Centre  and this photo illustrates just how popular the dance and music displays are with people of all ages, whether local or from further afield.

And so the story of MFAB continued...

After many years as an independent festival the Folk & Boat Festival eventually ran into financial difficulties, a fate shared by so many similar festivals over the years.
Happily, the Middlewich Town Council, which had supported the festival from the very beginning, stepped in and rescued this iconic Middlewich event, enabling it to continue and to carry on bringing fun and entertainment to both townspeople and visitors for many years to come.
The Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival was subtly renamed to become the Middlewich FAB Festival, reflecting the change in the way in which which the festival was funded and organised. At the same time the 'strictly folk' policy of the festival was relaxed and music of all kinds began to be featured.
To many, of course, it will always be the 'Folk & Boat', whatever its official title might be.



(A Salt Town Productions video)
One man's fight to appear at the
Middlewich Folk & Boat Festival!
Features some great photos of the Festival by local photographer Cliff Astles.

The winner of the FAB Festival's 2015 'Design a logo' competition

                                                                               
The official MFAB25 poster

The 2015 Festival Guide 
A selection of Middlewich Diary mastheads celebrating the festival's 25th anniversary


First published 10th October 2014
Amended versions published 9th April 2015/12th June 2015
31st October 2017

Monday, 30 October 2017

MIDDLEWICH SALT COMPANY LETTERHEAD 1946

The Roberts Collection
Here's an interesting piece of Middlewich history in the form of a letterhead from the Middlewich Salt Co Ltd (incorporating Verdin Cooke & Co Ltd). The company was later to become part of Cerebos and had one of the earliest vacuum salt making plants in the country, as well as traditional open pan works. The letterhead itself repays closer inspection. From it we learn that the company's telephone number was Middlewich 117 (2 lines) and their telegraphic address was 'Witch, Middlewich'. Their registered office was at Willesden, London and this remained the case right up until the take-over by RHM Foods in the late 1960s.
The trade-marks are particularly interesting. For some reason stags have always been associated with salt (perhaps a simple matter of alliteration) and cruet sets containing stag salt and pepper shakers remain popular to this day.
Cerebos table salt, of course, still proudly displays the Royal coat of arms on its packaging: 'By Appointment To Her Majesty The Queen, suppliers of table salt and pepper, Cerebos, London'.
The other trade mark is based  on that old association which we've mentioned before between Middlewich and witches, and even includes a pun on the town's name in its 'Middle-Witch' brand.
This  heading comes from a letter of reference which my Dad, Arthur, obtained from the company in 1946 in order to get a new job at Benger's in Holmes Chapel.
This proved to be a costly mistake as he returned to his old job shortly afterwards having lost part of his pension entitlement.

UPDATE (28th October 2016)
Those three witches, of course, are too good, and too iconic, to be forgotten. This modest account of a long-forgotten salt company has, since the very start of the Middlewich Diary, been our most popular entry. So we've decided that an updated representation of them would be ideal to celebrate Halloween. Here's our special Middlewich Diary Masthead for October 2016.


First published: 27th September 2011
Re-published: 28th October 2016
Updated: 30th October 2017

Friday, 27 October 2017

THE END OF AN ERA AT 'THE NARROWBOAT' 28th OCTOBER 2017 (ARCHIVED)




Mack's Music Promotions writes...

Saturday 28th October will see a great send-off for Damian and Craig at The Narrowboat in Lewin Street, Middlewich.

These guys have been at the popular Middlewich pub for ten years!

A few of the Calico boys are getting together to, hopefully, give them a great send-off!

As many regulars of the pub will know, Calico Jack have played The Narrowboat for years.

More recently, residencies from Codswallop and Pastry Shoes have also produced many a good night.

Open Mike Nights have been running at the pub for several years now and many other bands and musicians have also played there.

There have been countless celebrations and events, creating many happy memories.

It would be fantastic to see some of the many people we've seen at the pub over the years and who have been a part of the good times we've had! Let's do it!



The Middlewich Diary writes:

We can only agree. Damian and Craig have always, to coin a phrase, been 'up for it' when it came to running The Narrowboat and, most importantly, making the pub a part of the Middlewich community.
It would have been so easy for them to just sit back and let the pub, and in particular the restaurant part of the business, run itself.
But they've never done that. They've always been there promoting live music,  quizzes, theme nights and anything else they could think of to keep the pub in the public eye.
This was never more evident than when the annual Middlewich FAB Festival rolled around each June over those ten years.
Again it would have been so easy to take the easy way out and Damian and Craig could have just sat back and let the money roll in.
Most businesses in Middlewich make money over the festival weekend - whether they admit it or not - and it would have been so easy (and tempting) to try the 'festival free zone' approach (incidentally, others have tried this over the years and it never works. It just annoys people).

I doubt  they ever considered it for a moment.

So we hope everyone will go along to 'the Boat' on the 28th to say goodbye and express their appreciation of all the hard work which Damian and Craig have put in to making the pub the success it is.

Meanwhile, we wish the new management of The Narrowboat every success in the future.


Dave Roberts
Editor.
27th October 2017

Update (29th October 2017)


And it's goodbye from him...Damian and Craig on their last night at The Narrowboat, 28th October 2017.
Photo: Maxine Watkinson


ALTERNATIVES TO HALLOWEEN 2017 (ARCHIVED)




Monday, 23 October 2017

50 YEARS ON - THE BERTIE WILKINSON MURDER


by Dave Roberts

The Middlewich of fifty years ago was very different from the town we know today. The days of open-pan salt production were coming to an end and the canals which had carried the fuel for the pans and the salt which they produced were also falling into disuse and disrepair.

Salt Works and Canal: Middlewich in 1967.  This was the spot where we launched our canoe ready for the trip to the Anderton Lift. The site of the Pepper Street works, seen on the right, has now been re-developed as The Moorings.


But at the same time the canals were finding a new use as part of a growing leisure industry and Middlewich, like other towns on the network, began to see more and more pleasure boats taking the place of the old working narrowboats.

In the  Summer of 1967 - now forever immortalised as the 'Summer of Love' - a schoolfriend from Sir John Deane's Grammar School and I travelled by canoe from Seddon's Salt Works in Pepper Street to the Anderton Lift. 

One of the highlights of the journey was the passing of the Lion Salt Works at Marston, long before its days as a museum and tourist  attraction. Unlike the open pan works in Middlewich the Lion works had no plans for closure - despite its characteristic tumble-down, almost semi-derelict appearance - and would continue making salt in the traditional way until the 1980s by which time, as the only remaining open pan works in the country, it had a chance of being earmarked for preservation. 

Another highlight was the Anderton Lift itself which was also, by then, in a state of semi-dereliction. It was still working and some of the rapidly dwindling fleet of working boats were clustered around it waiting to take the last of the output from the Cheshire salt works down the River Weaver towards Weston Point. 

The lift was built in 1875 and served the area well for many years, linking the local salt industry with the Weaver, Liverpool and salt markets all over the world.
However, by the time of our visit it was suffering from heavy corrosion due to the salt and chemical works in the area and suffered frequent breakdowns. 

By 1983 it had become inoperable.

Restoration began in 2001 and the lift re-opened in 2002.

All in all it was an interesting trip, taking in the last of the traditional Cheshire salt industry and the canals which served it. 

If only we'd thought to take a camera with us!

Incidentally, one other factor we also had to take into consideration was the Foot & Mouth disease outbreak that year which decimated the cattle population and meant severe restrictions on any movements throughout the county

What we could not have known, and only discovered later in the year, was that our valedictory trip up the canal had also taken us close to the site of a gruesome discovery which was to be made in the October of 1967.

Our canoe journey took us through Whatcroft, which lies on the Trent & Mersey Canal between Middlewich and Northwich.


A Google Map showing the Whatcroft area. The large areas of blue are 'flashes' - lakes created by subsidence caused by 'wild' brine pumping in former years. 'Flashes' can be found all over Mid-Cheshire, notably in nearby Winsford. You'll notice that the Trent & Mersey Canal itself has also been affected and has its own 'flashes' (these areas, which are also to be found in other parts of the canal network, are usually referred to as 'wides'). Davenham Road connects King Street with the village of Davenham, just off the map to the left, and the thin diagonal dark blue line which is just discernible running from bottom right to top left is the Sandbach, Middlewich & Northwich Railway.



Whatcroft is a  mysterious and rather sombre  place. In the 1960s this wide area of the canal was used by British Waterways as a kind of  Scapa Flow for narrowboats. After the virtual collapse of the canal carrying industry in the early 1960s many working boats deemed surplus to requirements were brought here and deliberately scuppered, just to get them out of the way. It was a depressing and slightly surreal experience to walk this way and  see rows of perfectly serviceable boats just left to rot and slowly sinking deeper and deeper into the water.


Nearby is Whatcroft Hall,  a very desirable property. It was close to Whatcroft Hall, on the banks of the Trent & Mersey Canal,  that a gruesome discovery was made in October 1967

Middlewich soliciter Herbert 'Bertie' Wilkinson had, by October 1967, been missing from his home for over five months.

On June 2nd he left a 'hastily scribbled' note with his housekeeper, walked out of his house and was never seen alive again.

There is no record of what this note might have said, so we have to assume
that it gave no clue at all to the police in the subsequent investigation.

'Bertie' Wilkinson was a well-known figure in Middlewich fifty years ago, and was often to be seen walking along King Street from his home to his office in the town centre.

My mother, who kept tabs on everyone walking past our house in King Street, used to say 'there's Bertie', in a mysteriously 'knowing' sort of way, as if there was something we should all realise about him and what he was doing, but then again she kept up a running commentary on all the comings and goings in the street and nothing escaped her eagle eye. In this, of course, she was no different from any other woman in the street, or the rest of the town.

I never really took much notice of Bertie. 

There were many people walking past the house all day long - going to work and coming home from work; going for a drink and coming home again slightly (or much) the worse for wear....

There was nothing exceptional about 'Bertie'.

Except for one thing, apparently.

Bertie, my mother used to say darkly, 'liked men'.

And what's wrong with that? you might well ask. 

I certainly did. In my innocence (and please remember, this was when I was very young) I couldn't see anything wrong with Bertie liking men.

When Mum elaborated, it still didn't mean an awful lot.

'There are some,' she said, 'who think Bertie likes men a bit too much'.

What innocent times we lived in then!

In 1967 Herbert Wilkinson was 54 years old and unmarried.
His solicitor's practice in Middlewich had run into serious trouble, leading to his being struck off by the Law Society. 

The poor man must have been at the end of his tether and by this time, by all accounts, was 'sick in  both mind and body'.

Who can say what kind of life he had been leading up to that time? We don't know and, I'd like to think that even in these prurient times most of us wouldn't  really want to.

A few months after our little trip to Anderton, two young men* were searching for fox earths alongside the canal at Whatcroft when they came across a shallow grave containing the decomposing remains of a man.

*We've been informed that one of the young men who found the body was called
Billy Grey (or Gray). Can anyone confirm this and, if so, confirm the spelling? -Ed

Apparently it was difficult to make a positive identification of the body but the police came to the conclusion that it had to be that of Herbert Wilkinson who they had been searching for since his disappearance five months earlier. A pair of shoes and some fragments of clothing helped in the identification.

Cheshire Police's missing person's enquiry was about to turn into a murder hunt. 

And no ordinary murder hunt, either. 

It was one of the biggest murder investigations ever mounted in Britain and was headed by  Arthur Benfield who had, a couple of years earlier, been in charge of the team which investigated the horrendous Moors murders. 

More than sixty detectives were involved in the investigation, which took over six months to complete. They questioned every male in the town over a certain age, including me.

As I recall the 'interview' was very short indeed. All they wanted to know was whether or not I knew Herbert Wilkinson.

I said that I knew of him, but hadn't ever spoken to him. 

I told them that I used to mix up this particular Bertie with another one - Bertie Maddock, the town's rating officer at that time and, ironically, someone who I would end up working with at Middlewich UDC about three years later.

Some instinct told me not to mention Mum's oft-repeated assertion about Bertie Wilkinson 'liking men'. 

Looking  back over all those fifty years, that might well have caused complications...

The investigation involved detectives taking eight-hundred written statements  and talking to eight-thousand people - at that time a fair proportion of the population of Middlewich.

They also talked to nine thousand other people across the country- people who might have, or were known to have, used the canal system in June that year.

This was because the investigating team were making the not unnatural assumption that as the body was buried close to the canal bank in a location quite remote from Middlewich, it was likely that it had been taken there by canal boat.

So keen was the interest in the murder case that Granada TV's Scene At Six-Thirty programme (the fore-runner to Granada Reports) sent a camera team to Middlewich and we were able for the first, but not the last, time to see our town on TV.

The inquest into Bertie's death took place in Northwich in 1968 and the jury returned a verdict of 'murder by person or persons unknown'.

Strangely, the detectives involved in the case could only say that Herbert Wilkinson had 'either been killed with a  blow to the head, or strangled'.

Even allowing for the fact that forensic techniques were not as advanced fifty years ago as they are now, this still sounds a little odd. Surely, there's a world of difference between being strangled and being hit over the head?

Of course in a small town like Middlewich, rumours abounded about the identity of Herbert Wilkinson's killer and the way he was killed.

For many years it was 'common knowledge' that the murder weapon was a windlass of the type used on canal locks.



This, of course, ties in with the police investigators' theory about a canal boat being used to move the body and with the 'blow to the head' theory for the cause of death but there seems to be no mention of a windlass in any police reports.

It's long been assumed that the police were well aware of the identity of the killer but were unable to gather enough evidence to convict him or her.

After fifty years, the sad case of the murder of Bertie Wilkinson remains on police files as 'unsolved'.

It's all a long time ago now, in any case.

Poor Herbert Wilkinson might, in these more enlightened times, have been able to gain more sympathy and get some help for the problems which beset him.

Whatever the ins and out of the case, he surely didn't deserve to die as he did. 

May he rest in peace.

Dave Roberts
October 2017

Acknowledgments:

The Cheshire Magazine (Cheshire County Publishing 2002)

Cheshire Constabulary
Granada TV

Middlewich Diary entry ©  2017 Salt Town Productions